Thermal Cooking aka Hay Box Cooking

What is thermal cooking? Well it’s like a slow cooker, but it does not use electricity at all and all the magic happens inside the insulated pot. The short and sweet of it is that food is heated to boiling for a period of time 5, 10, 15 minutes and then put into an insulated structure. The interior covered pot will retain all the heat and the food will slowly continue cooking for several hours.This cooking concept is not new. While doing some research I found a newspaper article from the late 1890’s describing the same method. I also found a drawing in the book Experiment Station Work, XLI from 1907. If interested in reading the article it can be found over on the Internet Archive.

Well my cooker is not made from wood but the concept is the same. I was able to duplicate the method using a lidded pot and a cooler. Considering the cooler took up so much counter space and the hot pot warped the plastic on the inside of the cooler I finally decided to purchase a small crock pot sized thermal cooker.

It’s very simple to use and there is no worry from leaving an electric appliance plugged in all day. Continue reading

Cooking in a Hay Box – Venison Stew

I’m stepping out here a little bit and venturing into the art of cooking in a hay box.  What is a hay box?  Think “slow cooker – unplugged”.  Researching the concept of slow fire-less cooking I found that the idea is not new.  I’ve been able to find newspaper articles and research papers mention using a fire-less cooker as far back as the 1890’s.  The idea is that you get your pot of food (broths, stews, vegetables do best) up to boiling and then put the closed container into an insulated box and let it simmer in its own heat for hours slowly cooking.

In the past the cook would have used hay for insulation, but towels or quilts will work fine too.  They would have used a wooden box, basket, drawer, trunk or other closed container to keep in the heat and keep critters out of the cook pot.

For my test I used a cooler for the hay box, and a sheet of insulation that came with a box of frozen food I ordered.  (I knew that stuff would come in handy for something!).  My pot was too wide, so I had to turn my cooler on its side so the pot would fit inside and the lid would close.  A tight fitting lid is needed so steam doesn’t escape.  I also used a grill thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature.  Since I didn’t want everyone getting sick I made sure the stew stayed a consistent temperature.  For the most part mine remained around the 150F range for about 6 hours.  When I opened the cooler to check it at the end the stew was still steaming and I had to use pot holders to remove the pot from the cooler!

If you want to read more on cooking with a Hay Box here’s an article you can read from the Win the War Cookery Book and a article written in 1907 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Here’s the can cooker that I used for this recipe. This cooker also comes in handy for camping too!

Here’s my recipe for Venison Stew.  Enjoy!

Serves 5
Prep time 45 minutes
Cook time 7 hours
Total time 7 hours, 45 minutes
Meal type Lunch, Main Dish
Misc Serve Hot

Ingredients

  • 28 Oz Can Crushed Tomatoes
  • 2 -14.5 Oz Can Stewed Tomatoes
  • 8 Oz Package Sliced Fresh Mushrooms
  • 32fl oz Beef Broth
  • 1lb Venison – Cut in Small Cubes
  • 1 packet Stew Seasoning Mix
  • sprinkle Salt and Pepper to Taste
  • Vegetable Oil
  • 2 Bags Frozen Stew Vegetables (The packages I bought were about 16 ounces each. Large chunks of carrot need to be cut into smaller chunks so they cook quicker.)

Directions

Step 1
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Cut venison into small 1/2 inch cubes. Season with salt and pepper. Brown meat in a skillet with a little vegetable oil.
Step 2
In a stew pot that has a lid which fits tight combine the tomatoes, frozen stew vegetables, sliced mushrooms, beef broth and the browned venison meat.
Step 3
Bring the mixture to a boil. Stir in the stew seasoning mix. Let the stew boil for 20 minutes. Stir to keep from burning the vegetables on the bottom of the pot and keep from sticking.
Step 4
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While the stew is boiling prepare your Hay Box. I used a cooler that my stew pot would fit into and I could still close the cooler lid. Get some material for insulation so that you can surround your stew pot once you place it into the cooler. Towels can be used, small blanket, anything that will keep in the heat and provide insulation.
Step 5
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After your stew mixture boils for 20 minutes, put the lid on and carefully place the pot into the cooler. Surround the pot with insulation and place something heavy on the lid to help keep it closed. I used my “Can Cooker” and the lid has clamps that hold down the lid. If you are still afraid to try the Hay Cooker method, at this time use a slow cooker on low for 8 hours.
Step 6
Once your pot is placed in the Hay Cooker, close the cooler lid. Don’t peek in as you’ll let heat escape.
Step 7
Venison Stew

Let you stew simmer in the Hay Cooker for at least 6 hours before checking. It was late when I started mine cooking and didn’t want to get up at midnight to check at 6 hours so I removed the pot from the cooler and put it in the fridge for over night. At lunch the next day I heated up the stew and it was ready to eat!

Hay Box – Venison Stew

Serves 5
Prep time 45 minutes
Cook time 7 hours
Total time 7 hours, 45 minutes
Meal type Lunch, Main Dish
Misc Serve Hot

Ingredients

  • 28 Oz Can Crushed Tomatoes
  • 2 -14.5 Oz Can Stewed Tomatoes
  • 8 Oz Package Sliced Fresh Mushrooms
  • 32fl oz Beef Broth
  • 1lb Venison - Cut in Small Cubes
  • 1 packet Stew Seasoning Mix
  • sprinkle Salt and Pepper to Taste
  • Vegetable Oil
  • 2 Bags Frozen Stew Vegetables (The packages I bought were about 16 ounces each. Large chunks of carrot need to be cut into smaller chunks so they cook quicker.)

Directions

Step 1
Cut venison into small 1/2 inch cubes. Season with salt and pepper. Brown meat in a skillet with a little vegetable oil.
Step 2
In a stew pot that has a lid which fits tight combine the tomatoes, frozen stew vegetables, sliced mushrooms, beef broth and the browned venison meat.
Step 3
Bring the mixture to a boil. Stir in the stew seasoning mix. Let the stew boil for 20 minutes. Stir to keep from burning the vegetables on the bottom of the pot and keep from sticking.
Step 4
While the stew is boiling prepare your Hay Box. I used a cooler that my stew pot would fit into and I could still close the cooler lid. Get some material for insulation so that you can surround your stew pot once you place it into the cooler. Towels can be used, small blanket, anything that will keep in the heat and provide insulation.
Step 5
After your stew mixture boils for 20 minutes, put the lid on and carefully place the pot into the cooler. Surround the pot with insulation and place something heavy on the lid to help keep it closed. I used my "Can Cooker" and the lid has clamps that hold down the lid. If you are still afraid to try the Hay Cooker method, at this time use a slow cooker on low for 8 hours.
Step 6
Once your pot is placed in the Hay Cooker, close the cooler lid. Don't peek in as you'll let heat escape.
Step 7
Venison Stew
Let you stew simmer in the Hay Cooker for at least 6 hours before checking. It was late when I started mine cooking and didn't want to get up at midnight to check at 6 hours so I removed the pot from the cooler and put it in the fridge for over night. At lunch the next day I heated up the stew and it was ready to eat!